ŇBlessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you   Matthew 5:10-12

 

Here Christ propounds His eighth rule touching happiness, which he handles more largely than the former; for having laid down the rule (v.10), He expounds the same in a special application of it to His disciples in vv.11 & 12.

 

In the rule itself, note two points: first, the parties blessed; secondly, wherein their blessedness consists.

 

 

I. The parties blessed are they which suffer persecution for righteousnessŐ sake. Persecution properly signifies pursuit, such as one enemy maketh after another; but here the word must be taken generally, for all kinds of persecution whatsoever. Now because it is a paradox, and absurd in human reason, to think him blessed that for any cause is persecuted; therefore Christ to verify the truth hereof, repeats the same rule in the next verse, where also he expounds every parcel thereof, wherewith I will content myself, because Christ is the best interpreter of His own words. In the 11th verse therefore, Christ sets down these things, all pertaining to the true exposition of this rule.

 

1. First, He explains more particularly the parties that be blessed, saying to His disciples, Blessed are ye. In the beginning of the chapter we heard that He cast His eyes upon them, and spake unto them; and now here He doth the like again; and therefore this rule must not be understood of all men in the world that suffer, but of all ChristŐs true disciples.  Generally it is not true, for the heathen and infidels do often suffer for good causes, and yet remain infidels, without the true God, and so are not blessed. Again, a Christian professor may give up his life in a good cause, yet not of love to God or His truth, but upon ambition, and so not be blessed; for (1 Cor. 13:3) though I give my body to be burned, yet wanting love, it profiteth me nothing.

 

2. Secondly, Christ expoundeth particularly what He meaneth by persecution, naming three parts thereof:

 

(1) First, slandering and reviling, which is the persecution of the tongue. Thus the Jews persecuted the apostles, saying (Acts 2:13) they were drunk, or full of sweet wine. Thus Festus persecuted Paul (Acts 26:24) making him mad, or beside himself.

 

(2) Secondly, persecution meaning hereby (as the word doth properly signify) first, pursuit, such as one enemy maketh after another when he seeks to spoil him of his goods or of his life; secondly, the bringing of a man unto the bar, and there of malice to accuse an arraign him.

 

(3) Thirdly, evil speaking with lying, whenas men of purpose be without cause maliciously carried thereunto, as when the Jews called Christ a Samaritan that had a devil (John 8:48); and said that (Luke 11;18) He cast out devils by Beelzebub the prince of devils; and thus were the Christians in the primitive church persecuted, being maliciously accused for killing their own children, for worshipping the head of an ass, for incest and such like.

 

To these three kinds of persecutions, St Luke (Luke 6:22) adds a fourth; namely, hatred; and a fifth, called separation, whereby men were excommunicated, and cast out of the temple and synagogues for ChristŐs sake and the gospelsŐ. These are the several kinds of that persecution, for the enduring whereof, Christ pronounced men blessed (v.10); whereof hatred is the root, and the rest are branches.

 

3. Thirdly, Christ lays down the cause for which this persecution shall be inflicted; namely, for my sake; or as St Luke saith, for the Son of manŐs sake; which expoundeth this phrase, for righteousnessŐ sake (v.10), to wit, by professing, believing, and maintaining the doctrine of the gospel taught by Christ touching remission of sins and life everlasting to them that believe.

 

The uses in general.

We see that Christ urgeth this rule of blessedness more largely than the former; this He doth for special cause:

 

1. First, hereby He would teach His disciples, and us in them, that it is the will of God that His church in this world should be under the cross, in such affliction and persecution, as their blood should be sought for the maintenance of the faith. And this will He have to be the state of His church for special causes: First, that the members thereof by their afflictions may be acquainted with their own wants and infirmities, which they would not much regard, if they were freed from the cross. Secondly, that by affliction they may be kept from many grievous sins into which they would fall, if they lived in peace. Thirdly, that others, seeing the correction of the church for sin, might learn thereby to hate and avoid sin; and lastly, that the church might glorify God in a constant and courageous maintenance of His truth unto death; for even in persecution is GodŐs truth preserved against the reason of manŐs wisdom, patient suffering for the truth being faithful witness-bearing thereunto.

 

2. Secondly, Christ had newly called the twelve out of all His disciples, to be apostles; whereupon they might think that they should be advanced to some outward honour, ease and peace. But Christ hereby calls them from that conceit, and puts them in mind of affliction, which should befall them in time to come; that when it came they might the better endure it. And thus He prepares all churches to suffer affliction; yea, and we ourselves must hereby learn in time of peace, to prepare ourselves against the day of trial, because His will is that whosoever would live godly in Christ Jesus must suffer affliction (2 Tim. 3:12).

 

3. Thirdly, hereby Christ intends to lay a ground of comfort to His disciples in their persecution, by a plain and full declaration of their happiness that suffer for righteousnessŐ sake, in that they have sure title to the kingdom of heaven; out of which estate no sound comfort can be had. And this same must we lay up in store against the time to come; for we live now in peace by GodŐs mercy, but we know not how long it will continue. We have been threatened and dangerously assaulted by our enemies many a time, beside the rod of God shaken with His own hand against us; and we may not think our peace will last always, but seeing our sins increase, we may be sure our joy and peace will one day be turned into sorrow; and therefore it will be good to have this rule engraven in our hearts, that they are blessed which suffer for righteousnessŐ sake. If therefore tribulation come for the defence of the gospel, we must have recourse to this promise of blessedness, and that will be our comfort.

 

More particularly.

1. In the words of this rule, Blessed are they etc., Christ would let us see that deadly hatred which the world bears unto GodŐs church; for so much the word persecute importeth. The reasons of this hatred may be these:

 

(1) First, the church of God in the ministry of the gospel seeks the ruin of  the devilŐs kingdom, who is the prince of the world; the devil therefore rageth, and inflames the hearts of his instruments with malice against GodŐs church, that they may persecute and quite destroy it, if it were possible.

 

(2) Secondly, GodŐs church is a peculiar people severed from the world in profession, doctrine and conversation, and therefore the world hates them (John 15:18).

 

And this very point may serve to stay our hearts when we shall be persecuted for the profession and embracing of the gospel of Christ; for the world doth hate GodŐs church, and will do to the end; there must be enmity between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman, as then he that was born of the flesh persecuted Him that was born after the Spirit (Gal. 4:29).

 

2. Secondly observe that this hatred of the world is not only against the members of GodŐs church, but even against ChristŐs holy religion; so Christ saith, for my sake, or for my religionŐs sake. This is to be marked as a most excellent argument to persuade our consciences that the gospel of Christ which we profess, is the true and blessed doctrine of God, because the wicked world doth always hate it; yea, it hateth us also for the gospelŐs sake. Now if it were a doctrine of men, it would fit their natures well, and they would love it, for the world doth love its own (John 15:19).

 

3. Thirdly, if they be blessed that suffer persecution, then how may any man lawfully flee in persecution? Answer: A man may flee in persecution with a good conscience, these two things observed: First, that he be not hindered by his particular calling. Secondly, that he hath liberty offered by GodŐs providence to escape the hands of his enemies. The intent of this verse is not to forbid flight, but to comfort such as are in persecution and cannot escape; for the word signifieth such persecution as is by pursuit and oppression, which cannot be avoided.

 

4. Lastly, seeing they are blessed that suffer for righteousnessŐ sake; whether are they always cursed that suffer deservedly for an evil cause, for the contrary reason is in contraries? Answer: They are always accursed, save in our case; to wit, unless they repent for their unrighteousness, for which they are afflicted; but by true repentance they become blessed. The thief upon the cross had lived in theft, and was therefore attached, condemned and crucified, and so he suffered for unrighteousness; but yet he was saved because he repented and believed in Christ.

 

It is added, for righteousnessŐ sake. In this clause we are taught a special lesson; namely that when God shall lay upon us any affliction or persecution, as imprisonment, banishment, loss of goods, or of life itself; we must always look that the cause be good, and then suffer willingly. This is a necessary rule, for we must suffer affliction either publicly or privately, if we will live godly in Christ Jesus. Now it is not the punishment, but the cause that makes a martyr; and to this purpose Peter saith (1 Pet. 4:15,16), Let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief or a busybody; but if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but glorify God in this behalf; and therefore we must be sure the cause be good; yea, this we must look unto in our particular private crosses.

 

 

 

ŇBlessed are ye when men revile and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you for my sakeÓ (v.11)

 

In handling the former verse, we shewed the meaning of these words, and how they serve to expound the former rule. The point here to be observed is this: that to revile and slander, yea (as Luke saith) to hate a man for a good cause, especially for religion, is persecution; which shews how fearful the common sin of the age is, whereby men revile their brethren with base and odious terms, because they shew some care to please God and to adorn their profession by a godly life. But thou art a persecutor, whosoever thou art that usest this, and therefore repent and leave it, for it is a preparation to a greater sin in this kind, and most odious in GodŐs sight, as the punishment hereof declares (Gen. 21:9,10 with Gal. 4:29,30).

 

St Luke adds a second word: And when they separate you, whereby is meant excommunication out of the temple and synagogue; a punishment which Christ foretold should befall His disciples. This censure was put in execution in their synagogues; for besides the administration of civil justice, ecclesiastical matters were there handled. Now mark what Christ saith: Though excommunication be mine own ordinance; yet blessed are you when men excommunicate you out of the temple and synagogues for my namesŐ sake; where He maketh excommunication a kind of persecution, when it is denounced against men for righteousnessŐ sake.

 

Here then we may learn what to think of the papal bulls, whereby he excommunicates kings and queens, and particular churches, for denying subjection to his chair; namely, that they are the devilŐs instruments wherewith GodŐs children are persecuted, and that all such that are thus excommunicated for defending the truth of the gospel, are blessed; for excommunication is not the instrument of a curse to them that suffer it for a good cause. Secondly, hence we learn that excommunication abused against GodŐs Word is no powerful censure; though in itself being used according to GodŐs ordinance, it is a most terrible thunderbolt, excluding a man in part from the church and from the kingdom of heaven; and therefore all churches must see that this censure be not abused, for the abusers of it incur the danger of the curse, and not they against whom it is unjustly pronounced.

 

 

 

ŇRejoice and be glad, for great is your reward in heaven; for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.Ó (v.12).

 

II. Here Christ draws a conclusion from the former rule; for having said in general that they which suffer for righteousnessŐ sake are blessed (v.10), and applied it in particular to His disciples (v.11), hereupon He infers that they must rejoice in affliction, even then, or (as Luke saith (Luke 6:23)), In that day; yea, they must be glad; which word signifieth exceeding joy, such as we used to express by outward signs in the body; as skipping and dancing; such (2 Sam. 6:14) as David used to testify his joy for the return of the ark of God to his city. This is a most worthy conclusion, often urged and commended unto us in scripture: Brethren, count it exceeding great joy when ye fall into divers temptations (Jam. 1:2); We rejoice in tribulation, knowing that tribulation bringeth forth patience (Rom. 5:3); The disciples rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer rebuke for the name of Christ (Acts 5:41).

 

Here we learn then that GodŐs church and people, that suffer in a good cause, must rejoice and be glad. This must be remembered, for we have been many times in great danger of our enemies for the gospelŐs sake; and it may please God to leave us in their hands, for our manifold sins, and great abuse of His heavenly blessings; which if He does, what must be our behaviour? Must we be swallowed up with sorrow and grief? No, but humbling ourselves for our sins, we must remember for what we do suffer, and rejoice and be glad in that behalf; for though our outward man perish, yet the inner man shall be revived.

 

Now because it is a hard thing to rejoice in grievous afflictions, therefore Christ doth give two reasons to move them hereunto:

 

1. First, from the recompense of reward after this life, in these words: For great is your reward in heaven. This point I have handled heretofore, and therefore I will here only shew how the papists abuse this text to prove the merits of manŐs works of grace; for hence they reason thus: Where there is a reward, there is merit; but in heaven there is a reward for manŐs works of grace; and therefore in this life, there is merit by them. To this it is answered divers ways. I will touch the heads of the principal:

 

(1) First, the word reward must not be understood properly but figuratively; for ChristŐs speech is borrowed from labourers, who after they have done their work, do receive their wages, which is the reward thereof; even so, after ChristŐs disciples and servants have suffered afflictions for the name of Christ, at the end of this life they shall receive life everlasting.

 

(2) Secondly, when we read of wages and rewards in scripture, we must not dream of anything due by right of debt and merit, but conceive thereby, that which is given by promise, and of mere mercy; like as when an earthly father promiseth to his son to give him this or that thing if he will learn; now the fatherŐs gift is not merited by the child, but is freely given, the more to incite the child to learn his book.

 

(3) Thirdly, if we understand reward properly; then we must refer it, not to our sufferings, but to the sufferings of Christ; for there is no proportion between our sufferings and life eternal. The afflictions of this present life, are not worthy of the glory which shall be shewed unto us (Rom. 8:18).

 

2. The second reason is taken from the example of the ancient prophets: For so persecuted they the prophets which were before you. In this reason, Christ intendeth two things: First, to teach His disciples and us that persecution for good causes is no new or strange thing. Secondly, to comfort His disciples and servants in their sufferings; for that thereby they should be made conformable to the ancient worthy prophets, who were of old renowned among men, and are now glorified of God in heaven. Hereto we must compare the words of Luke spoken to the same purpose (Luke 6:23), for after this manner did the fathers to the prophets. By fathers, we must needs mean the ancient people of the Jews, for here He speaketh to His disciples and others that were Jews by nation. Now hence observe a strange point; to wit, that the ancient prophets, who were most worthy men of God, were persecuted in their times, not so much by forerunners and enemies to religion, as by those that were outwardly members of the church of God, and professors of religion. This may seem strange, that men living in GodŐs church should grow to this height of impiety, to become persecutors of GodŐs saints; but St Stephen giveth the reason hereof (Acts 7:51), their hard hearts, whereby they resisted the Holy Ghost in the ministry of the Word; for which God left them to themselves, so as they ran headlong to this height of impiety, to persecute GodŐs dearest servants. The like we may see in these our days; some that have been professors, after long hearing, break forth into open atheism, calling this into question: whether there be a God. And among others there is also to be seen as vile cruelty and oppression in their particular dealings, and as abominable filthiness, as is to be found among the heathen and idolaters; all which, and many other enormous sins proceed from this: that though men profess religion, yet they deny subjection to the gospel preached, so as it is not in them a Word of power; for which cause, God in His justice gives them up to hardness of heart, to commit sin without remorse. And therefore if we would escape the fearful judgment of a reprobate sense, let us labour with fear and trembling to become obedient to the Word which we hear; for if we do not glorify God in the means, wherein He offers grace and mercy, God will be sure to glorify Himself in our deserved confusion.